Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2021 Apr 7:1-26. doi: 10.1017/ice.2021.154. Online ahead of print.
Background: Physical distancing among healthcare workers (HCW) is an essential strategy in preventing HCW-to-HCW transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Objective: To understand barriers to physical distancing among HCW on an inpatient unit and identify strategies for improvement. Design: Qualitative study including observations and semi-structured interviews over three months. Setting: A non-COVID adult general medical unit in an academic tertiary hospital. Participants: HCWs based on the unit. Methods: We performed a qualitative study in which we (1) observed HCWs activities and proximity to each other on the unit during weekday shifts July-October 2020 and (2) conducted semi-structured interviews of HCWs to understand their experiences with and perspectives of physical distancing in the hospital. Qualitative data were coded based on a human factors engineering model. Results: We completed 25 hours of observations and 20 HCW interviews. High-risk interactions often occurred during handoffs of care at shift changes and patient rounds, where HCWs gathered regularly in close proximity for at least 15 minutes. Identified barriers included spacing and availability of computers, the need to communicate confidential patient information, and the desire to maintain relationships at work. Conclusions: Physical distancing can be improved in hospitals by restructuring computer workstations, work rooms, and breakrooms; applying visible cognitive aids; adapting shift times; and supporting rounds and meetings with virtual conferencing. Additional strategies to promote staff adherence to physical distancing include rewarding positive behaviors, having peer leaders model physical distancing, and encouraging additional safe avenues for social connection at a safe distance.